So reality has set in for Rider fans following a four game winning streak being snapped 30-25 by an Ottawa team that as it did in week two, treated the Rider defense like a whiney kid wanting the balloon that creepy clown was handing out on the corner.
For Rider fans leaving Mosaic Stadium the bitter tears were born from the feeling that maybe, just maybe, they had been fooling themselves and the team that fell short of a Grey Cup appearance last year will again fall short because the Riders offense is not operating at the same level of the defense or offense. You cannot expect a team to have almost half of its scoring coming from special teams and defense and then have an offense that if it can’t score, should at least move the team down the field to give the defense enough time to get its collective breath back.
Rider GM/Coach Chris Jones tended to blame penalties for the offensive short-comings, avoiding the subject of the composition of the offense, which is handcuffed to an extent by Zach Collaros contract. The Riders traded for and then slightly renegotiated Collaros’ contract which is still the highest in team history and somewhere in the 400 K to 450 K neighbourhood.
This is significant because last year Kevin Glenn was probably making at best half that, which allowed the Riders to spend on a supporting cast that included Duron Carter, Trent Richardson, Bakari Grant. The releases of players like Grant and free agent signings like Travis Bond, former Winnipeg offensive guard who was released and then went to start in Edmonton, were salary cap movies to readjust the roster to factor in Collaros’ contract.
The problem is that if you pay someone that kind of money, they had better be able to deliver, and while Collaros has a winning record, he also has a glass jaw and an apparent arm that can deliver the odd deep ball now and then, but can also look like something thrown by a seal.
This raises the possibility that Collaros, who is on a one-year contract and will be a free agent next season, will not see another contract pay out like this one. If the Riders genuinely examine their operations and see how such a massive investment can fail to pay off and more importantly, limit the number of quality pieces you can add to a team, then if Collaros comes back, it will be less than what he is making now.
Collaros’ concussion history means the answer to the Rider quarterbacking rebuild may well lie across the field in the form of James Franklin. With McLeod Bethel Thompson taking the reins and putting up yardage, the Argo offense is showing some pop, and Franklin, who the Argos traded for from Edmonton, might be available to be moved, especially if Toronto needs draft picks or starters in some area.
The Riders went to younger players on its receiving corps and the results are about what were expected. Some good moments, one player in Jordan Williams-Lambert who was an upgrade from Grant, some players like Joshua Sandford who clearly have some maturing to do, and some like Shaq Evans who have some moments, but also has moments where he fails to execute things like come back to the ball which then allows a defensive back to step in front and either knock the ball down or intercept.
The running game seems to have reached a point of development with Tre Mason carrying most of the mail, but leaving Marcus Thigpen in the role of a spot reliever despite his ability to turn a simple handoff into an expressway to the end zone. It would be easy to blame this on the offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo who calls the plays, but the Riders are consistent about not tossing their players under the bus the other factor is that the Riders receiving corps is simply too inexperienced and perhaps not talented enough to carry their fair share of the Rider offensive load.
While it might be nice to hope the Riders offense can contribute two to three touchdowns a game, perhaps rethinking what is possible with this offense is what needs to be done first. The Riders need to at least draw even or win the time of possession if they are simply too inept to operate an effective passing game.
That needs to be the first priority because the more the Rider defense is on the field, the more they will break down and let runners like William Powell and perhaps this week James Wilder Jr. run like grass through the proverbial goose. The Rider return game has been producing touchdowns at an impressive rate, but again, this is not like a sustainable rate, especially if teams adjust their kicking strategy.
This week the Riders are facing a quarter in McLeod Bethel-Thompson who has been around the game and at 30 has seen some game experience and more interestingly has tossed for 300 yards a game for the last three games. Thompson is assisted by James Wilder Jr who after a lukewarm start, seems to be contributing on a more consistent basis. If the Riders cannot stop Wilder, Toronto has the receivers, including the addition of Duron Cater to make Saturday a long day for the Rider defense.
While the story line will be Duron Carter versus his former team, there are other factors at work here. The CFL is at Week 14 and while the Argos were 6-7 last year leading the Eastern Conference, this year they are 3-9, likely on the verge of being eliminated when a western team catches the crossover spot.
Interestingly enough, the Riders are 7-5 this year, compared to 6-6 last year, but this year their offense has fallen down and can’t seem to get up. Toronto is trying to avoid being the first team since the 2006 Edmonton Eskimos to win a Grey Cup and then fail to qualify for the playoffs the next year.
The CFL schedule this week features a full slate of games starting Friday night when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers come off a bye to host Johnny Manziel and the Montreal Alouettes. Winnipeg went into the bye torn over who should be the starting quarterback after Matt Nichol, game manager, went into four game losing streak including back to back loses to the Riders.
This is an interesting game because Winnipeg is on a two game home losing streak while Montreal, believe it or not, wins twice as much on the road than it does at home. Overshadowing all of this is news the Als may look at signing Manziel to a contract extension that may put him in the 600K neighbourhood and include an NFL window.
For a guy who is 0-2 and who whined this week that he didn’t know why he was on the sidelines while Antonio Pipkin won two games in a row and then threw four interceptions last week, reopening the door to Manziel hitting the field. Manziel must be looking at the influx of new quarterbacks in the NFL, including Baker Mayfield who won Cleveland’s first game in two years, and sees his window closing unless he can demonstrate he is still a cut above the average quarterback.
There is another factor – the Als will have to Manziel a roster bonus of $75,000 in March, so the Als need to know what exactly what they have on the field before forking over more cash. Manziel’s whining may be justified to some extent, but then again, if Manziel was not starting, he had only himself to blame in not knowing as much as the playbook as he should have.
Winnipeg is attempting to demonstrate faith in Nichols by not benching him and hoping that this confidence building gesture will result in a return to the quietly competent guy who led Winnipeg to winning records the last two season, but ah…no Grey Cup.
If Manziel is going to build a case for being the starter, this is where it starts and the odds are that Winnipeg’s defense, which has been performing well despite the four straight losses, will not want to be known as the first team Manziel beat in the CFL. Which when you think of it, has a certain inevitability to it.
Manziel looks south of the border and sees a new crop of NFL quarterbacks breaking in and succeeding and realizes his window is closing to either fulfill his self-described destiny in the NFL or go down as one of the biggest victims of self-inflicted career suicide in football history.
The Bombers announced they are reducing their parking and concession prices for the remainder of the season because as the weather gets colder, and say your team has been sliding out of contention and a Grey Cup contender seems unlikely, people can’t justify sitting in the cold and paying insulting prices onto the injury of being a Bomber fan.
This game has an air of desperation to it as Winnipeg needs to win to at the very least keep its crossover hopes alive and Montreal needs to thwart the western teams’ movement to grab that crossover berth. In the end though, Winnipeg has more talent and better coaching to win this one 30-21.
Edmonton goes to Ottawa in a game where Edmonton is coming off a bye week and a win over Calgary while Ottawa’s offense seems to be suffering from the same thing Winnipeg is now experiencing – a streaky quarterback.
Ottawa’s win over Saskatchewan demonstrated when Ottawa has its collective crap together, they can hang with and beat any team in the league. The problem is that Ottawa has Trevor Harris who when he is good, he is very good, and when he is bad, the team gets worse.
Harris’ problems might stem from a feeling he has to do it all to make up for an offensive line that can’t seem to hold a block. One way to start is to feed William Powell the football to take the pass rush pressure off. Ottawa picked up former Eskimo/Rider/Argonaut running back Greg Morris who has shown flashes of being pretty explosive at times and at others, has a tendency to drop the ball, but this is a good pickup for Ottawa.
Edmonton for its part welcomes back Duke Williams to its receiving corps and a new found sense of belief in themselves. The win over Calgary combined with the Riders loss to Ottawa has put Edmonton into second place and hope to host the western semi-final.
Injuries have played a role in the effectiveness of the Eskimos this season and now with the team facing injuries in the receiving corps, the importance of the return of Williams cannot be understated. The Eskimo offensive line is in better condition than the Riders offensive line to handle the Ottawa pass rush, something that will have to be cranked up in order to put the heat on Mike Reilly.
That may be balanced off by the return of running back CJ Gable who provides the Edmonton Eskimos with so many options from running the ball, to catching the ball, to blocking blitzing defenders. That addition will be one of the most important and maybe the one factor that tips the game to the Eskimo side which may be looking to debut the pickup in a trade with Toronto - Martese Jackson and Edmonton wins 27-24 because when the Eskimos win, it is a close game.
The Riders go to Toronto and Toronto has the elements to beat the Riders, but what makes this interesting is how the Rider defense rebounds from the loss last week and then how the Rider offense operates. If Collaros continues to have problems moving the offense, likely due to the receiving corps dropping the ball, the Riders will have to rely on Tre Mason moving the ball on the ground and the Riders are getting better doing that.
Carter versus his former team will be the story line and while Carter is attempting to show discipline, when he gets on the field and starts yapping, he will have an amazing catch and blow it with a roughing or unsportsmanlike penalty. Carter may have insight into both Rider offense and defense, but the Riders also have an insight into Carter and if they can get him off his game where he is more concerned with hitting back at the Riders than making plays, the Riders are a step ahead.
It is not impossible for the Argos to win the game, but the game will hinge on how well the Rider defense handles the Argo offense. Ottawa provided a blueprint but Toronto doesn’t have the offensive line that can deliver on the promise and so the Riders win 27-21.
Wrapping things up on Saturday is Hamilton going to BC in the battle of the cats. For people who billed Calgary-Hamilton last week as a Grey Cup preview, only to see Hamilton fold in the second half, it would be easy to write the Tiger-Cats off as doomed to failure, especially with the Cats having to go west.
The problem with that is the last time Jeremiah Masoli was in BC leading the Cats, the Cats won. Hamilton is trying to rebuild their receiving corps and with Brandon Banks recovering from a groin injury, the Cats may be looking at an older but experienced receiving corps versus their ideal speed kills receiving corps but the results may be pretty interesting to watch.
Running back Alex Green is out for the cats and John Henry White will be starting for the Cats and looking to demonstrate some versatility and more importantly, that he is physically capable of playing this deep into the season.
For BC, they decided not to place quarterback Travis Lulay on the six game injury list for his separated shoulder because as Lulay put it, he can do the rehab for the shoulder in his sleep and if he responds better than expected, the Lions can put him on the roster quicker with few paperwork hurdles.
This means the Lions will be going with Jon Jennings at quarterback who took over for the injured Lulay last week against Montreal and led the team to victory. This was probably good for Jennings’ confidence, but let’s not forget the team he beat was Montreal, and while Hamilton still has a questionable defensive backfield, it is a step up from Montreal.
BC does play better at home, but the coast does not seem to deter Masoli. If Hamilton decides to supplement their receiving corps by bringing in Chad Owens, the veteran content will make up for the lack of speed and if Banks plays, he won’t have the pressure to carry the whole team with him.
So in the end, the difference may come down to the confidence shown by the quarterbacks. Masoli has earned the confidence that comes from surviving Manziel in camp as a back-up to leading the team to some great come back wins. Masoli also suffers from swings in performance, but has shown the resilience that Jennings has yet to develop.
So take the Cats to win this one, 28-27 because both teams have a lot at stake in this game and while a win brings them closer to their goals, a loss may be particularly damaging.
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